In 2000, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and Richard French & Associates took the sport of professional rodeo to an unprecedented level of consumer awareness. A yearlong program of creative media relations resulted in mainstream print, cable and broadcast coverage that achieved the business objectives of the PRCA – excite mainstream sports enthusiasts about rodeo, win new fans for the sport and drive viewership for the Wrangler ProRodeo Tour on TNN and ESPN2. The PRCA/RF&A team positioned pro rodeo as an extreme, action-packed, traditional American competitive event featuring star athletes that belong in the mainstream of televised sports. News and sports formats on broadcast and cable television networks were targeted by the PRCA/RF&A team, as were major consumer magazines and national newspapers. The exposure generated for the sport, in print and on television, substantially elevated public awareness of professional rodeo, its star athletes, the Wrangler ProRodeo Tour and the rapidly growing national fan base for “America’s original extreme sport.” As a result, the PRCA enjoyed its greatest year of expansion – increased prize money, increased sponsor contracts, bigger television packages, record-breaking attendance – since it was formed in 1936.
The PRCA/RF&A team faced three distinct challenges:
- Rodeo is an old sport with a deeply rooted tradition and culture that is neither familiar nor comfortable to every American.
- Rodeo is a multi-sport event, comprised of seven different categories of competition, so it can be difficult to absorb for new fans.
- Beyond the Western markets where pro rodeo is part of the cultural landscape, most Americans had never seen the sport live, few had ever seen it on television and very few knew the names of any of the top competing athletes.
These challenges, in turn, represented opportunities:
- The advantage of being under-reported in the media is that the topic is “fresh.” There was no concern from writers, editors and producers that the sport is over-reported. Rodeo and its top stars had the opportunity to be introduced for the first time to hundreds of thousands of potential new fans as a traditional American sport offering extreme action and danger.
- The seven events in PRCA competition require different skills and physical attributes of the athletes, so there is a compelling and entertaining variety to rodeo, including women. In addition, the tightly edited televised version is very fast-paced in order to cover all seven events in the required time.
PRCA/RF&A research conducted in 1999 concluded:
- 54 percent of rodeo fans have personal incomes between $35k and $50K per year, and 46 percent earn between $50k and $75k per year.
- 91 percent of rodeo fans are over 21.
- The majority of the fan base for pro rodeo is concentrated in states west of the Mississippi River.
- Rodeo fans are just as likely to reside in cities with populations over 100,000 (24.4 percent) as they are to live in ranching, farming or rural areas (25.8 percent).
- In 1999, 18 million Americans watched pro rodeo on television.
- In 1999, pro rodeo averaged a cumulative cable TV rating of 0.3.
(Sources: PRCA Properties, Inc., CIA Media Network, TNN, ESPN, ESPN2)
Objectives: Expand the consumer franchise for the PRCA by positioning rodeo as a mainstream professional sport.
Grow the national television audience for the Wrangler ProRodeo Tour by branding Sunday night as “rodeo night in America.”
Turn the top PRCA athletes into “stars.”
Strategies: Pursue opportunities for the widest possible consumer exposure in the mainstream print and broadcast media.
Promote Fred Whitfield, the PRCA’s first African-American world champion all-around cowboy, as a symbol of the expansion and evolution of pro rodeo.
Promote the growth in the popularity of rodeo as evidenced by rising attendance figures, increased television viewership and the unprecedented expansion of the 12-month Wrangler ProRodeo Tour broadcast schedule.
In presenting the stories of the PRCA and its stars to the mainstream media, the PRCA/RF&A team positioned the “cowboy sport” as one which stood for a code of values, including independence, loyalty, family and the spirit of friendship and helping one’s neighbor. Compared to other professional sports there are no overpaid, pampered prima donnas in rodeo. The team also characterized pro rodeo as a demanding and often dangerous sport that featured some of the toughest and most courageous athletes competing anywhere.
The PRCA/RF&A team planned and executed a media event in New York City on March 11, 2000, which continued to produce print and broadcast coverage for the PRCA throughout the year. The agency booked Fred Whitfield, Ty Murray and Dan Mortensen, three of the top champions of pro rodeo, to appear in a segment on the CBS Early Show. The cowboys rode horses through Central Park, down 59th St. and across Fifth Ave. to CBS Plaza. At the conclusion of the Early Show segment, the cowboys met with other members of the media at Grand Army Plaza for interviews and photos. In addition to the Early Show, the New York event generated coverage in Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, Fox News, People Weekly and the Associated Press. The comprehensive media relations that were conducted for the event helped RF&A establish key relationships with national mainstream print and broadcast media that resulted in significant coverage at later dates, including:
- Sports Illustrated (March, June, Aug.)
- Business Week (April)
- ESPN The Magazine (May, June)
- Glamour (July)
- Cosmopolitan (July)
- MSNBC (Aug.)
- Newsweek (Sept.)
- Good Housekeeping (Oct.)
- Men’s Journal (Nov.)
- FX Network (Dec.)
- CBS 48 Hours (air date: March ’01)
Earned media generated by RF&A for the PRCA in 2000 totaled well over 40 million consumer impressions with an estimated market value of more than $1.1 million (source: CIA Media Network).
The stars of the 2000 National Finals Rodeo will be the subject of an hour-long broadcast of CBS 48 Hours on March 14, 2001, which will be seen by 15 million Americans (source: CBS News).
ProRodeo.com, the website of the PRCA, had over 250 million hits in 2000, an increase of 300 percent over 1999 (source: PRCA).
Cable network broadcast hours of PRCA events jumped from 46 in 1999 to 105 in 2000 (source: Las Vegas Review-Journal).
26 million Americans watched rodeo on television in 2000 (Source: CIA Media Network).
In 2000, pro rodeo averaged a cumulative cable TV rating of .09. (Sources: ESPN, TNN).